Obsessing about Ranveer Singh’s Gully Boy? Watch these five essential hip-hop films/series next
“The thing about hip-hop today is it’s smart, it’s insightful. The way they can communicate a complex message in a very short space is remarkable.” Barack Obama said that. That ought to be worth something.
To some, it might seem as if Obama is simply stating the obvious. Of course, rap music is intelligent. We’ve heard Eminem rhyme about his daughters and Nas rap about his hood. But we’ve also heard Macklemore drawl about thrift shops and Badshah ‘rap’ about chinchillas. It’s a diverse genre, one that has transcended borders with universal themes of oppression and rebellion.
Words like ‘smart’, ‘insightful’ and ‘complex’ can be used to describe Gully Boy, the movie of the moment. Not only is it driven by music that isn’t Indian, it is directed by someone who has always made her preference for European cinema well known. And yet, it tells a story that is totally rooted in India - a section of India, in fact, that Zoya Akhtar has never set foot in, at least on film.
The challenges she faced are nothing to scoff at. In a country whose only real exposure to rap music is the popular stuff heard in Bollywood movies - keep in mind, Gully Boy is a Bollywood film - to introduce a whole new style of hip-hop, ‘asli hip-hop’, isn’t easy.
And yet, Gully Boy has been received with warmth. It was expected to do well, but its phenomenal box office opening suggests that it will play like a ‘90s Khan-driven musical romance. By the end of this weekend, many of you would have seen it. And it is perfectly fine for a lot of you to be curious - about a grimy new world, previously untouched by the gloss of Bollywood.
So after Gully Boy, here are five documentaries every rap music fan must watch:
The Defiant Ones
The Defiant Ones, on Netflix, traces the history of the genre through the eyes of some of its biggest advocates, particularly pioneers Jimmy Iovine and Dr Dre, who did more to take rap music global than perhaps anyone else. You might also want to check out Rapture and Hip-Hop Evolution, two similarly themed series, also on Netflix.
Something From Nothing: The Art of Rap
Something From Nothing is a wonderful exploration about the techniques of rap music, and host Ice-T stages the coup to beat all coups by assembling the best rappers in the world - Ice Cube, Nas, Eminem - to talk about their craft in refreshingly passionate detail. But perhaps its most unexpected achievement is reminding audiences that once upon a time, Kanye West was talented.
Biggie & Tupac
Like director Nick Broomfield’s other music documentary - a salacious account of rockstar Kurt Cobain’s suicide which suggested that his widow, Courtney Love might have been involved in his death - Biggie & Tupac is a mostly sensational account of the biggest rivalry the rap industry has ever been seen. But beneath its blingy exterior, there lies a tale about a broken friendship, the corruption of art, and the tragic death of two of the brightest talents in rap music - The Notorious BIG and Tupac Shakur. You might also want to check out Tupac: Resurrection, the Oscar-nominated film which allows the late rapper to tell his own story.
Nas: Time is Illmatic
East Coast rapper Nas’ 1994 album, Illmatic, is often considered to be among the finest rap records ever produced. The documentary offers an inside look into Nas’ life, his childhood growing up in New York, and how it influenced his music, which went on to define the East Coast sound. It is among the rare movies to have a 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
Dave Chappelle’s Block Party
There’s a lot going on in Dave Chappelle’s Block Party. It’s essentially a concert film (directed by Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind’s Michel Gondry of all people), but it’s so much more than just a rap movie. It’s a celebration of a vibe - Boho Brooklyn at nighttime, populated by singers and songwriters and artists, all coming together as one - and it’s also a comedy, released immediately after Chappelle’s abrupt announcement that he was walking away from a $50 million deal to continue his show. Fair warning: might contain Kanye.
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